This weekend, after a crazy dinner party that left me with four dishwasher loads of dishes and six kinds of cheese in the fridge, I found myself hungrily eyeing my slow cooker and trying to think of what I could make that would involve as little prep and as few dishes as humanly possible. If I could use up some of that cheese, even better. The answer, my friends, was baked ziti.
I will admit that I was skeptical about slow-cooked pasta. The very nature of the noodle is that it's a quick, easy, meal. If you know how to boil water, you're pretty much good to go. I was afraid that the long cooking time would make the noodles mushy and unappetizing, and that they would absorb too much of the sauce. I found that as long as you don't leave it in too long ad you keep an eye on it, it works perfectly. This isn't a recipe for a workday when you'll be gone for eight or nine hours, it's more for when you're home but otherwise occupied.
I highly recommend the use of whole-grain pasta in this dish. Because they are denser than refined noodles, they're less likely to lose integrity during the slow cooking process and you are less likely to end up with a crock full of glop.
Slow Cooker Baked Ziti
1 box of whole grain ziti, or shape of your choice
1 jar of prepared marinara sauce
1 cup water
2-3 cups assorted cheese (I used shredded mozzarella, crumbled goat cheese, and a grated hard cheese - Roth's Private Reserve)
Spray the inside of the crock with pan spray, you'll thank me when it's clean-up time. Layer as such: One third of the sauce, half the pasta, half the cheese, one third of the sauce, the remaining half box of pasta, the rest of the sauce, the cup of water, the rest of the cheese. Cut a piece of aluminum foil about the size of the inside of the crock, spray one side with pan spray, and place it (spray side down) lightly on the ingredients. Like this:
This will keep the moisture down in the lower half of the crock, where it belongs, and the top layer of pasta will cook but not get all crunchy. Cook on high for four hours. Keep an eye on it, if it looks like it's drying out but the noodles aren't cooked through, sprinkle another 1/4 of water over the top.
This was a big hit with the family. I served it with chewy whole grain bread, and mixed greens.
P.S. My current favorite salad dressing is a sprinkling of tamari and a sprinkling of orange muscat champagne vinegar. I find the vinegar at my food boyfriend's place (Trader Joe's). It's zesty, sweet, and a little tart on the finish, and works perfectly against the subtle salt and umami of a nice tamari. Did I mention it's fat free? Because it is.
P.P.S. I started a Twitter account for notices of updates and random blurbs that won't fill a whole blog post. You can follow @mouthfull_blog, and I will attempt to be entertaining.